In an opinion dated October 7, the United State Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that paid meal breaks do not obviate an employer's responsibility to record and compensate all hours worked by non-exempt employees, even if paid meal breaks are not compensable time under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In the case, Smiley v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company, employees filed a collective action under both federal labor law and Pennsylvania state law seeking compensation for time spent before and after shifts suiting up in uniforms or safety gear and performing other work-related activities. This uncompensated time averaged between 30 and 60 minutes daily. In the course of a 12-hour shift, workers would receive one 30-minute paid meal break, as well as two other 30 minute breaks per shift. The employer counted the paid meal break toward time worked, even though it was not required by the FLSA to do so. The employer argued that because it was not required to pay for the meal break, that time could offset non-compensated time before or after shifts.
The Third Circuit rejected the employer's argument, finding that the FLSA doe not permit discretionary compensation to offset compensable time. Although the FLSA would not require the meal breaks to be paid, once the employer chose to compensate them, that time could not be used to offset hours worked. The court further noted that the FLSA contains three specific circumstances under which overtime pay may be offset, and that paid meal breaks are not included in those.